In April 2016, mere hours after the Duchess of Cambridge was spotted on a Mumbai cricket pitch in a breezy georgette tunic dress adorned with mogul motifs, Anita Dongre’s website abruptly crashed, unprepared for the ordering blitz that would ensue. Dongre, the visionary behind Kate Middleton’s now internet-famous frock, credits that royal tour of South Asia with catapulting her onto the international stage.
Though she just debuted her sustainable threads—modern silhouettes embellished with hand-embroidery and patterned tie-dying—at the airy Manhattan extension of her Mumbai-based Grassroot boutiques this past summer, Dongre has spent two decades building a sartorial empire of five brands in her native India. The 53-year-old designer, who recently scored a spot on Fortune India’s short list of the country’s most powerful women, traces her passion for indigenous techniques to the narrow alleyways of Jaipur, where she spent summers shadowing sidewalk artisans during visits to her grandparents’ place. “I would return year after year to make lac bangles, scarves, and shoes,” she says. “Those artisans knew I would be a designer long before I did.”
It’s fitting, then, that the Grassroot brand serves as a platform for the underrepresented “craft secrets” Dongre culls from trips to villages across the subcontinent. What results are hand-woven shift dresses, bejeweled maxis, and wooden-box clutches, that pay tribute to Mumbai, a frenetic heartbeat of a city, the backdrop to frothy Bollywood dreams, and India’s financial nerve center. “It’s a central meeting point for India’s diverse ethnicities,” Dongre says of her kinetic hometown. “It’s got a fervent energy and truly brings out the best in you.”